Chile: Authorities seeking to normalize irrigation systems in Atacama after storm

Yesterday, the Fruit Exporters Association of Chile AG (Asoex) had a meeting with the Minister of Agriculture, Carlos Furche, in order to coordinate the work being done in the region of Atacama after the flood of March 26 damaged part of the infrastructure for horticultural production in the area.

In the meeting, they shared their assessment of the area, as both entities had visited it last week, and agreed on fundamental actions to achieve restoring the agricultural activities in the region as soon as possible.

There are 1,000 hectares devoted to horticulture in the Atacama region, which are almost entirely damaged. 13,000 hectares are devoted to fruit production and are still being assessed, hand in hand with the producers of the area and the Canal Associations, to know how many were affected. 

The damage to the irrigation infrastructure is significant. Currently, the water sources for the irrigation are not operational so the irrigation systems in the valleys of Guasco and Copiapo aren't functioning. Thus, channelling the rivers and cleaning the canals is a top priority both for the Government and the private sector.

"We are extremely concerned about the situation that is affecting producers, exporters and workers in the Atacama region. There are 6,000 workers who might be affected in the short term, and we are also concerned about the horticultural producers because they work the fields and grow fruits. We want their situation to be normal as soon as possible," stated the president of the ASOEX, Ronald Bown, at the end of the meeting.

In turn, Minister Carlos Furche said that, to achieve normality, they were already working in coordination with the Ministry of public works to channel the rivers, so they would return to their natural course as soon as possible. He said they were also working at cleaning the channels to enable the flow of water and that they would start a process to rehabilitate the irrigation's infrastructure in the short term, which they would be able to accurately measure dimensions once they had all the necessary information.

The Secretary of State announced that, in addition to the presence of the Undersecretary of Agriculture in the area this week, they have formed a Team of Permanent Emergency at the Ministry's level, in order to channel the actions that need to be implemented and the concerns of the producers from the affected area.

For this reason, we have been able to start providing various benefits today, said the minister. "There are some bonds that are already underway. The debt of the producers had to pay in 2015 and that were attended by Indap have been written off. We are delivering food for animals, we have established a bonus of up to 3 million pesos for the re-establishment of productive conditions; we have sent machinery for road clearing and cleaning the canals as well as created a placement package through the National Irrigation Commission. We are doing the best we can," said Furche.

Meanwhile, Ronald Bown, underlined the need to normalize the situation as soon as possible, providing support from the private sector to accelerate things. "Standardization is a top priority for us because if this is not reconstituted in the next 45 days, when the pruning of grapevines starts, we would be facing a very important loss regarding productivity," he said. Then he added that, "we are satisfied with what the Minister has proposed in relation to the commitment of the National Irrigation Commission, with the aim of finding new ways of providing financing for the rehabilitation of the irrigation systems. We have asked for greater speed in the reconstitution of the channels, which is a task that corresponds to the Government, since after that the private irrigation systems can be reconstituted."

Minister Carlos Furche and the president of ASOEX will meet next week in the area with the region's producers and exporters to better coordinated efforts.

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